With retail hurting, should downtown roll dice instead?

  • Article by: BARBARA FLANAGAN
  • Updated: March 2, 2008 - 11:38 PM

Re: Downtown Minneapolis, of course. Plus, shall we think about gambling? Really.

Re: Downtown Minneapolis, of course. Plus, shall we think about gambling? Really.

Nate's is moving to the 'burbs, and what are we doing about it? The longtime downtown retailer -- going on 100 years in the Loop -- is only one on a list of stores that are moving out.

What has happened? Since I can remember the Nicollet Mall in its glory days --the 1960s and 1970s -- it is a shock. Yes, Target is there, and Macy's is still there, although its leader, Frank Guzzetta, is retiring. And there is J.B. Hudson, the historic jeweler, which has just moved into spacious new digs in Elizabeth Quinlan's Young Quinlan Building.

But it is a fact that many people who come to our town for a convention or a visit attend their meetings and then head for either the Mall of America in Bloomington or the gambling layout at Mystic Lake. They ignore downtown, don't shop, don't dine, nothing.

So how about gambling downtown? Dan Cohen is for it. He believes a casino at the site of the present downtown post office is the thing to do. He claims that it would generate major tax revenue. He estimates about $200 million for an initial operating license and $100 million annually thereafter.

Some may ask, "Who is Dan Cohen?" Well, he's been around awhile. He used to be president of the Minneapolis City Council and the Minneapolis Planning Commission. As I recall, he had some creative and sometimes curious ideas. Turning the post office into a gambling hall is a bit of both.

Is it a good idea? Since my betting is limited to the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl -- for Dairy Queen ice cream things -- I don't know. Cohen says it won't be easy, and he points out that it took Carl Pohlad quite awhile to get the new Minnesota Twins stadium built. But he also notes that the casino operators would be putting money into the state treasury, not asking for taxpayer money.

Cohen also sees Las Vegas-style shopping downtown, eventually. That's glitz galore.

Since part of our town will explode at the thought of gambling inside the city limits, I await the debate. Cohen was quoted as saying that he thinks ''gambling on gambling'' is less of a gamble than ''shopping for shopping.'' Maybe.

Veeps, stadium treats and nude eats

While we wait, let's consider some other thoughts and ideas:

Is Minnesota ready to provide another U.S. vice president? We have had two -- Hubert H. Humphrey for President Lyndon Johnson and Walter Mondale for President Jimmy Carter.

Now, the rumor is that Gov. Tim Pawlenty is one of two or three gents being considered by likely GOP candidate Sen. John McCain. Pawlenty would probably be able enough in that job, but is he well enough known nationally? That is one for Sen. McCain.

Carl Pohlad and Twins Sports Inc. President Jerry Bell are spending some of the team's dough on amenities for the new ballpark. It is a good list that includes a high-def scoreboard, additional restrooms and some three-sided shelters where fans can keep warm when the wind blows in spring and fall. Three-sided shelters? That sounds weird. Why not just get a moveable roof.

And then there is something called ''naked sushi night.'' Thom Pham, owner of Temple restaurant, told this newspaper that he will offer Japanese sushi served on the bodies of male and female models. They will sprawl in the center of your table wearing, he said, ''banana leaves and flowers'' with the sushi. And diners will scrape it off, apparently, and, gulp, eat it. Doesn't sound sexy, just yucky.

Treating the eyes and ears

Since I often favor bright and colorful ideas, let me admire briefly those icy candles at Lake of the Isles for the Luminary Loppet. Those ice candles were the idea and work of two Isles neighbors, Hal Galvin, an engineer, and architect David Bryan. Bravo!

Although I missed the launch, I look forward to hearing the new CD by singer Connie Evingson, and this time it is something very special.

The songs on her "Little Did I Dream" CD are by St. Paul's amazing Dave Frishberg, a jazz artist who has been keeping New Yorkers and everyone across the country laughing for years. And, yes, Frishberg's infamous "Peel Me a Grape" is on the recording. So is "My Attorney Bernie," a song I believe he wrote for Tim Brown of Dorsey & Whitney. Frishberg has also written some new tunes, including a wistful "Our Love Rolls On," which is perfect for Evingson's smooth and mellow voice. Listen in.

Some late winter reading

Finally, some good books for a winter-into-spring afternoon:

• "The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington,'' by Robert D. Novak. Like him or not, he writes well, and this autobiography has some fascinating moments in it.

• "Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out,'' by Annette Atkins, is a history book but with a difference. It is about people as well as places, and it has a sense of humor.

• "Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life,'' by Steve Martin, is a marvelous look at how tough standing up and being funny really is. I loved it.

Barbara Flanagan, longtime columnist for the Star Tribune, writes on the first Monday of each month. Her interests are the metropolitan area -- what's good and what's bad -- and the fascinating people who live here. She can be contacted at barb-flanagan@comcast.net.

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